Mace Neufeld bought the rights to make movies about Jack Ryan before anyone knew that Tom Clancy and The Hunt for Red October were going to become a worldwide phenomenon. He then had to convince the Navy to cooperate and Hollywood to take a chance on a military-themed movie at a time when they weren't so popular.
Neufeld has produced all five movies based on the Tom Clancy character, the Cold War spy classic No Way Out and the upcoming movie version of The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit comes out on Blu-ray and DVD next week and Neufeld talked to us about relaunching the movie series, the evolution of the Jack Ryan character and the iconic WWII-era photo he took as a teenager.
You’ve been involved with the Jack Ryan movies from the beginning, How did you acquire the rights from Tom Clancy?
That’s kind of an easy one. I had a young man working for me in development. I sent him down to the Dallas Book Fair and he came back with his book called The Hunt for Red October, which was published by the Naval Institute Press and it was at first a work of fiction. He said, “You’ve got to read this,” and of course I didn’t do that immediately. I had it on my night table and then about a month later I picked it up and read it through in one night and got really excited and called the agent and optioned the book. This is 1984.
About a month after I optioned it, there was an article in either Time or Newsweek where Ronald Reagan said it was his favorite book of the year. I had just closed the deal to option the book and I thought I was home free, but I took it to every studio in town and I got turned down. I had an 18-month option, so I had to extend it again.
Eventually, I got Paramount to make the movie only because a friend of mine was running Paramount and he was flying to London and had nothing to read. I called him and told him to read this book and that, if he didn’t think it was potentially a great movie, he'd never have to take my calls again. He called me from Heathrow and said, “You're right, this is a terrific read, but I think you can only do it with naval cooperation and I'm going to put that in the contract.” So he did and I got it.
Over the course of five movies now, you’ve had four actors play Jack Ryan and the performances are all very different from each other. Talk about the thinking behind the new version of Jack Ryan in "Shadow Recruit."
We did the first four almost consecutively and then there was a nine year gap. While The Sum of All Fears was successful, Ben Affleck had done a picture that was a real disaster called Gigli and Paramount didn’t want to cast him again as Jack Ryan. So the process of developing a Jack Ryan script kind of languished. We had run out of books that we thought were appropriate but then discovered that we had the rights to do an original screenplay. And that’s what we came up with for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Shadow Recruit is a little bit of a problem for me because that was added by the marketing people and I think it confused a lot of people as to, what was it? Was this Jack Ryan or was it a movie called Shadow Recruit? The new DVD fortunately has Jack Ryan in big letters on it.
You tried to remake the character for a post-9/11 world.
Sum of All Fears actually came out six months after September 11th. I thought Paramount was very courageous in releasing it at that time because those events were so fresh in everybody's mind. If you saw the movie, remember that a terrorist blew up Baltimore, but apparently it didn’t affect the box office of the film. Then, of course, we had this big nine year gap between Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan.
Our readers will really enjoy the the fact that Jack Ryan's military service after 9/11 is a big part of the film. That’s just not something that’s been emphasized so heavily with the character before.
That was kind of a great shorthand way of opening this film and introducing Jack Ryan to audiences who had not seen him before. He's a very patriotic guy. I've always had a great relationship with the military cooperating with making these films. It's been good for us and it's been good for the military.
Did Tom Clancy have a chance to see a cut of the film before he passed last year?
No, he did not. That was very sudden and he was much too young to go at that time. I like to think he would have liked it, but who knows?
Alec Baldwin's portrayal was probably closest to the character in the original books, but I like Chris Pine's presence onscreen in this new movie. He seems more age-appropriate than Harrison Ford.
Chris is a very talented actor. He comes from an acting family. He doesn’t have a movie star ego. He's very much a journeyman actor and he's the right age and not too bad to look at either.
Are there plans for the next Jack Ryan movie?
Well, I'm planning. I hope that Paramount has.
Tell our readers the story of the iconic WWII photo you took as a teenager.
I was a senior in high school. I was 16 years old. I was, in the afternoons, taking pictures for a dress company. And I was on my way to work from school on the lower east side and a cab pulled up across the street and this soldier struggled out on crutches and somebody yelled, “Hey, Sammy's home” and a window opened up upstairs and a woman screamed, “Sammy,” and a man came out of a print shop right next to the cab.
I thought, “I’ve got to get this picture,” but I didn’t want to intrude on this moment. But my photographer instinct kicked in and I had my camera with me and I walked halfway across the street and took one shot and then left. And then I went home that night and developed it in my darkroom and printed it up and it looked pretty good. And I showed it to a friend of mine who said, “You ought to go down and try and sell this.”
So I took it down to the New York Daily News and I sent it in and the photography editor came out. He said, how much do you want for the picture? And I just threw a number at him. I said $250, which was, in those days, like $2500. And he said, “Okay, give me the negative.” And I said, “No, I can't give you the negative.” So he said, “Okay, give it to me and I'll make a copy negative.” And I waited and then he came out and gave me a check.
Then I decided I'd go over to the news service, to International News Photos, and I went over there and sent it in and the editor came out. He said, “How much you want for it?” And I said, “$250, but the Daily News is printing it first. He says, “That’s okay. We'll have syndication rights.” And so the Daily News printed a full page and then it was syndicated around the country.
I found out later that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 until the Joe Rosenthal Iwo Jima flag-raising picture came in. So they made that the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner. Unfortunately, you know, they jumped all of the rules because it had been taken in 1945 and not in 1944. And ,as we all found out later, it was the second flag raising. It was a great photo.
But my picture was included in a show at the Museum of Modern Art and, yeah, I've got it up on my wall and somebody from the L.A. Times recently came in and looked at it and said, “I want to do the story on that picture.” So that’s the story.